Fire damaged Liberian flagged cargo vessel, APL Austria at Ngqurha, Port Elizabeth still being examined to determine cause of fire: SAMSA

Pretoria: 08 March 2017

Investigations into the cause of the fire that broke out on board a Liberian cargo vessel, the APL Austria, while sailing off the Indian Ocean along South Africa a few weeks ago continue in Port Elizabeth, with authorities indicating that it may be a while before they find answers.

According to the Captain Daron Burgess, a Principal Officer at the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) southern region office in Port Elizabeth, the suspected cause of the fire currently is possibly a chemical known as a “calcium hypochlorite” that was found stowed under deck in No.4 cargo hold.

Wikipedia describes calcium hypochlorite as a chemical “commonly used to sanitize public swimming pools and disinfect drinking water. Calcium hypochlorite is also used in kitchens to disinfect surfaces and equipment. Other common uses include bathroom cleansers, household disinfectant sprays, algaecides, herbicides, and laundry detergents.”

Apparently according to Capt. Burgess, the presence of the chemical on board the vessel was somewhat mysterious as the vessel’s crew was “unaware of it as it was not declared as such.” Capt. Burgess stressed in statement on Tuesday however that: “The final report by fire experts has not been released yet and so we cannot confirm the cause.”

The APL Austria – a 72 000 ton, 280m wide cargo vessel – had been some 30 nautical miles south west of Jeffreys Bay – about 50-70 kilometers west of Port Elizabeth – when it reported a fire on board at about 5pm on Sunday, 12 February 2017. Shortly thereafter with rescue operations scrambled, it was then redirected overnight back to Port Elizabeth and eventually to its current docking location at the port of Ngqurha following to which its crew was evacuated while firefighters battled the blaze

A graphic map showing the exact location where the APL Austria was when it was diverted back to Port Elizabeth on Sunday afternoon after fire was reported to be blazing in one of its cargo holds.
A graphic map showing the exact location where the APL Austria was when it was diverted back to Port Elizabeth on Sunday afternoon after fire was reported to be blazing in one of its cargo holds.

On Tuesday this week, reporting on the continuing mop up operation on board the vessel Capt. Burgess said: “All damaged containers have been discharged from the vessel and the No.4 cargo hold is now empty and being mopped up. All empty CO2 cylinders (45kg x 444)  have been replenished and placed back on board. ”

He said high pressure hose cleaning began on Tuesday and was expected to be completed on Wednesday afternoon after which  investigators hoped to have a full view of the damage to the vessel.

According to Capt. Burgess repairs to damage caused by  the fire on board the vessel was unlikely to be conducted at the Ngqurha port. “The vessel has had SA repair companies attend to inspect damage and to give quotes for seen damage to ship and hatch covers.” He said it was likely the vessel might set sail again to elsewhere sometime next week.

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Blaze on board Liberian flagged vessel in Port Elizabeth contained: Monitoring continues

Pretoria: 14 February 2017

The APL Austria cargo vessel (Photo: Courtesy of
The APL Austria cargo vessel (Photo: Courtesy of

A fire that broke out on a giant Liberian flagged container vessel, the APL Austria while sailing west off the eastern ocean of South Africa on Sunday has been contained, but its situation is still being closely monitored, the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) reported on Tuesday.

The 71 867 tons, 280 meter-wide container carrier on which fire broke out in one of its cargo holds on Sunday afternoon while sailing 30 nautical miles south-west of Cape St Francis – some 50-70 kilometers west of the city of Port Elizabeth – had to be diverted back to the port of Ngqurha on Sunday night in order for rescue operations including firefighting to be conducted.

With the crew evacuated – an operation overseen by the SAMSA Maritime Rescue Coordinating Centre (MRCC) based in Cape Town, throughout Sunday night, Monday and early Tuesday, firefighters both on board and outside the vessel, inclusive of tugs from the Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) battled the fire, while efforts were made to remove some of the cargo on board to safety.

A graphic map showing the exact location where the APL Austria was when it was diverted back to Port Elizabeth on Sunday afternoon after fire was reported to be blazing in one of its cargo holds.
A graphic map showing the exact location where the APL Austria was when it was diverted back to Port Elizabeth on Sunday afternoon after fire was reported to be blazing in one of its cargo holds.

On Tuesday afternoon, SAMSA Centre for Shipping Executive Head, Captain Nigel Campbell reported that the battle against the blaze was being won progressively.

“It appears that the fire in the hold has been extinguished but the space has not been deemed safe to enter as yet. There are still smouldering containers on deck which are being fought by the fire brigade, a harbour tug is providing boundary cooling. Containers with hazardous cargo are being removed from the area around the fire,” said Captain Campbell.

He added that: “The Joint Operations Committee sits shortly to monitor progress against the plan.”

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Firefighters battle blaze on board Liberian flagged vessel in Port Elizabeth!

The APL Austria cargo vessel (Photo: Courtesy of
The APL Austria cargo vessel (Photo: Courtesy of shipspotting.com)

Pretoria: 13 February 2017

The cause of a major blaze on board the APL Austria, a Liberian flagged cargo vessel now docked at Ngqura harbour, some 30km east of Port Elizabeth, may take time to determine; the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA) said on Monday as firefighters continued to battle the blaze earlier in the day.

According to Captain Daron Burgess, a Principal Officer for SAMSA’s Southern region; rescue services were set in motion on Sunday afternoon, at approximately 5.49pm, after the SAMSA Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) located in Cape Town was alerted of a fire on board the container vessel.

route-map-1

At the time, according to Capt Burgess, the vessel was 30 nautical miles South-West of Cape St Francis – some 50-70 kilometers west of the city of Port Elizabeth.

He said when alerting the MRCC, the crew of the vessel had been of the impression that the fire was on the vessel’s “No.3 cargo hold” only to be later established as having broke out in its “No.4 cargo hold”.

The APL Austria built in 2007 is about 280 meters in length overall,  with a beam of about 40m and a gross tonnage of about  71 867 tons and a deadweight of some 72 807t.

“The vessel was instructed to proceed to Algoa Bay anchorage and she arrived at the anchorage area at 02h00 this morning, Monday 13 February 2017. There are several containers containing hazardous cargo on deck above No.4 cargo hold, but fortunately none of them were on fire,” said Capt Burgess.

According to Capt Burgess, relevant senior officials of the port of Ngqurha, Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) and SAMSA boarded the vessel from about 4am on Monday for an assessment of its conditions while firefighters, inclusive of three TNPA harbour tugs assisted with the firefighting operation by providing boundary cooling.

“Lots of black smoke was emanating from the vessel. The weather conditions have been favourable since the incident occurred, with a light South-Easterly wind. The vessel heaved anchor at about O5hOO this morning and was instructed to proceed further out in the bay to clear the other vessels at the anchorage area. The tugs continued with boundary cooling during the morning hours; during the night the vessel used their on board fire extinguishing media.

“After the fire was relatively under control, arrangements were made to take the vessel into the Port of Ngqura with the Metro Fire Fighters on standby and to deal with the situation upon arrival alongside. The vessel entered the Port of Ngqura at approximately 10h00 this morning. It is not yet clear at this stage what caused the fire. An investigation will be undertaken once the fire is extinguished to try and establish the cause of the fire,” reported Capt Burgess.

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